From the Director





by Rex Parker, Phd

What’s Happening in AAAP
This month’s lecture on Feb 11 at Peyton Hall will deepen our look at our own favorite star, the sun, from the incredibly close perspective of NASA’s Parker Solar probe. Recent updates from Parker’s NASA blog on Jan. 29 indicated that in its latest (fourth) solar orbit the probe came closer than 12 million miles from the Sun’s surface and reached a speed of 244,000 miles per hour. These are unprecedented achievements in the history of science. See Ira’s section below for more on the speaker and specifics about the talk.

Meanwhile here in our local corner of the planet we patiently await clear nights, especially on weekends, for the opportunity to gather at AAAP’s Observatory in Washington Crossing Park for member training/refresher sessions with the astronomy equipment and software. Due to the challenges of weather this time of year, announcements for these sessions are likely to come on short notice – so please keep your eyes on the e-mail when signs of a clearing sky appear. I hope to see you out there over the next couple of months.

We are also aiming for a special observing outreach session on Feb 29 at the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space headquarters at the mansion (on the patio) at the Ted Stiles Preserve on Baldate Mountain in Hopewell Township ( To participate with your telescope go to the Calendar on our website and send a note to

Princeton Legacy of the Space Telescopes
Here among the ivy-trailed towers and steeply slanting lecture halls across our benefactor university, many tales intertwine to speak of deeds worthy of our remembering. So many bright stars of astronomy have called Princeton University home through the decades.

The Spitzer Space Telescope has gone out with a flare of news and publicity recently as it concluded its scientific career on January 30, 2020. It made numerous discoveries from exoplanetary to galactic research in its nearly 18 year life, longer than ever expected. The Spitzer telescope’s earth-trailing solar orbit was the first among spacecraft. Rather than circling Earth as Hubble does, Spitzer orbits the Sun but moves more slowly and drifts farther away from earth each year. Spitzer was one of NASA’s four orbiting Great Observatories which spanned the wavelengths and together enabled concomitant observations of deep space across the spectrum: Spitzer (infrared), Hubble (visible), Compton (gamma ray), and Chandra (X-ray). Each wears the name of a luminary of astronomy and astrophysics. Did you realize that the Spizter was named for a Princeton University icon?

An earlier chapter in this story begins with Spitzer’s mentor at Princeton, professor Henry Norris Russell (also director of the Princeton University Observatory). In the early 1910’s, Russell’s trail-blazing work and intellectual abilities led him to deep insights about the fundamental relationships between temperature, size, distance, and luminosity of stars. He developed a profoundly elegant formulation which today is known by students and amateurs alike as the Hertzsprung-Russell (H-R) diagram. Independently established by Russell and the Danish astronomer Ejnar Hertzsprung, the H-R diagram can be used to directly infer a wide range of stellar astrophysical properties. As Russell continued his work at Princeton he mentored several young PhD students, one of the brightest being Lyman Spitzer, who received his doctorate in 1938 and went on to astrophysics fame. Spitzer made big contributions in stellar dynamics and plasma physics over many decades at Princeton. He became one of the main drivers of thermonuclear fusion research in the 1950s, culminating in Project Matterhorn which in 1961 became the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Today Spitzer’s stellarator fusion design prototype can still be seen in the main lobby at PPPL. He is acknowledged as the first to seriously conceive and promote development of space-based telescopes, and was a force in the creation of the Hubble Space telescope.

It is this legacy which NASA honored by naming the Spitzer Space Telescope back in the early 2000’s. Over the next millennium, this reminder of the incomparable history of great astronomers at Princeton will continue its now lonely journey watching over the planets and stars, a sentinel for the remarkable scientific achievements of its namesake and lineage.

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From the Program Chair

by Ira Polans, Program Chair

Featured Speaker The February meeting of the AAAP will be held on the 11th at 7:30 PM in the auditorium of Peyton Hall on the Princeton University campus. The talk is on Parker Solar Probe’s Historic First Passages by the Sun by David J. McComas, Princeton University Vice President for the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and Professor of Astrophysical Sciences.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission launched 12 August 2018 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The mission design required the nation’s largest launce vehicle – a Delta IV-Heavy with an additional Upper Stage – and seven Venus flybys to progressively lower its orbit’s perihelion down to within 9 solar radii of the Sun’s surface. After the initial Venus flyby, the first two perihelia pierced within ~35 solar radii, nearly twice as close to the Sun as the planet Mercury or any prior spacecraft. Parker Solar Probe carries four instrument suites to measure 1) the surrounding density structures from scattered white light and in situ observations of 2) plasma ions and electrons, 3) magnetic and electric fields, and 4) solar energetic particles; this last suite, the Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun (IS☉IS), is led by Princeton University. This talk summarizes the Parker mission and highlights early results from these various measurements over the first two orbits.

Speaker Biography David J. McComas is Princeton University Vice President (VP) for the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), Professor of Astrophysical Sciences, and Associated Faculty in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. As VP, he also serves on the Princeton University President’s Cabinet, President’s Council, and Executive Compliance Committee. Previously he was Assistant VP of the Space Science and Engineering Division at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas, and an Adjoint Professor in the joint University of Texas, San Antonio – SwRI graduate program in Physics, which he helped to establish in 2004. From 1998 through 2000 Dr. McComas served as the founding Director of the Center for Space Science and Exploration (CSSE) at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Prior to that, he was concurrently the NASA Program Manager at Los Alamos Group Leader for Space and Atmospheric Sciences (NIS-1). Dr. McComas received his B.S. Degree in Physics from MIT in 1980 and Ph.D. in Geophysics and Space Physics from UCLA in 1986.

Dr. McComas is a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS), American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He has received numerous awards and accolades including the AGU’s 2018 Eugene Parker Lecture, the COSPAR Space Science Award in 2014, NASA’s Exceptional Public Service Medal in 2015, and AGU’s James B. Macelwane Award in 1993.

Dr. McComas is the Principal Investigator for NASA’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP, Boundary Explorer (IBEX) Mission, the Two Wide-Angle Imaging Neutral-Atom Spectrometers (TWINS) Explorer Mission-of-Opportunity, the Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun (ISʘIS) on Solar Probe Plus and the Ulysses Solar Wind Observations Over the Poles of the Sun (SWOOPS) Experiment; he is also the lead Co-Investigator for the Solar Wind Electron Proton Alpha Monitor (SWEPAM) instrument on the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), the solar wind analyzer for the New Horizons mission to Pluto (SWAP), and the Jovian Auroral Distributions Experiment (JADE) on the Juno spacecraft that will orbit over Jupiter’s poles. At Los Alamos he was also the Principal Investigator for DOE’s series of 10 Magnetospheric Plasma Analyzer (MPA) instruments at geosynchronous orbit. Dr. McComas is Co-Investigator on NASA’s Medium Energy Neutral Atom (MENA) instrument on the IMAGE Midsized Explorer, the plasma instrument for the Cassini mission to Saturn (CAPS), the GENESIS Discovery mission, ISTP Polar spacecraft’s Thermal Ion Dynamics Experiment (TIDE), the Cluster plasma electron instrument (PEACE), and is a team member on the New Millennium Plasma Experiment for Planetary Exploration (PEPE).

10-Minute Member Talk After the break Bill Murray will give a talk on The Past and Future of Astronomy. If you’re interested in giving a future 10 minute talk please either email me at or speak with me during an upcoming meeting.

Meet-the-Speaker Dinner There will be a meet the speaker dinner at 6 PM at Winberie’s in Palmer Square prior to the meeting. If you are interested in attending please email me by noon on February 11 at

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Minutes of the January 14, 2020 AAAP General Meeting

by John Miller, Secretary

  • Director Rex Parker opened the meeting, 7:30PM. He reviewed several current items on the club’s agenda (Keyholder and Member observatory training). It was announced that member Ted Frimet has volunteered as co-editor of Sidereal Times, taking the place of Prasad Ganti.
  • Ira Polans introduced guest speaker, Associate Professor of Physics, Bin Chen of NJIT. His presentation centered on solar atmospheric dynamics. There were approximately 50 attendees.
  • It was announced that the AAAP has joined the NASA Night Sky Network. Contact Rex Parker or David Skitt for details regarding participation by AAAP members.
  • A general discussion addressing the pending project to refurbish the observatory support columns was revisited. Outstanding issues remain contractor availability and costs and necessary permits. Rebuild design was also discussed.
  • The current club financial balance is reported at $15,100.
  • The meeting adjourned about 10 P.M.
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Let’s be naughty!

by Theodore R Frimet

look under the bonnet

Thank you all for allowing me to step up to the plate and learn how to co-edit Sidereal Times. From studying the banner pages, I’ve identified many good souls that have contributed their talents, throughout the years. The one consistent astronomical find is our present Editor-in-Chief, Surabhi Agarwal.

Let’s all tip our proverbial hat to Editor Agarwal, as we peer into the observatory lens of journalism, and find not less than 11,753 views, complemented by 6,102 visitors in 2019.

Your contributions, and Surabhi’s adeptness to flawlessly edit, have provided eons of images and text for all to see and learn from.

Clear Skies,
Ted Frimet

View count for countries visiting Sidereal Times in 2019. A total of 11,753 views, with the United States leading at 8,518.

Sidereal Times has 11,753 total views for 2019 with the United States leading at 8,518.

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Orion the Hunter

by Theodore R Frimet

neither slumber nor sleep

The night sky is truly wonderful. I find it sometimes hard to explain. I have been searching for an explanation ever since. What, you ask? Orion the Hunter appears on his side, early evening at the horizon, and then stands tall, at the upper meridian later at night. That is the question.

I have observed, at Washington Crossing Park, as well as at Jenny Jump, that constellations appear larger or smaller, depending on the time of night. I’ve read this is due to an illusion. Perhaps the same type where we see a Large Moon, or a Small Moon. The moon size, however, depends on its relationship to our view thru the trees, or over the top of an apartment building, or house. It is in fact, an illusion.

I’d take it with a grain of salt, that the astronomers’ constellation view appears bigger or smaller. There are no trees in space. Apartment complexes and houses do not obstruct the wide field of view from the soccer field. I await the commentary of our readers to educate me and set the record straight.

For now, I will trust my eyes. The horizon at Washington Crossing Park is wonderful! Orion becomes my subject anew:

At the horizon’s far distance I spy the Hunter. He is virtually on his side. Hours later, I look up, and find him upright! I share my freshman opine with other seasoned amateurs. Of course they say, “happens all the time”. And yet, you and I must transcend Einstein, look past Newton, kick Galileo to the curb, and toss Kepler with Tycho Brahe in his pocket, too. Copernicus, shall we stare back at early cosmology of Ptolemy and Aristotle? Do I dare say, circles upon circles?

Oh, all right. Before I toss out the greats, and invoke the hostility of Astrology everywhere, I’ll remand myself to the Sixth Circle of Hell. Therein too heretics once burned before the eyes of Virgil and Dante.

In an all out effort to be brave, I crack open my toughest read ever recommended to me by another amateur. W. M. Smart’s Textbook on Spherical Astronomy, Sixth Edition, revised by R.M. Green, Cambridge University Press Edition, 1997, page 34, figure 17, to be precise. I’ll spare you the imagery, and make quick of the description, below:

The celestial equator is on a different visual angle than our horizon. And with the earth’s rotation, we observe not only the rise, and setting of Orion, we see his rotation as well. Further, our Southern observers “below” our equator see things a little differently. As we in the Northern Hemisphere witness The Great Hunter’s feet dipping below the line of site, our Southern partners would see Orion appear, feet first, and upside down!

Ah, the celestial sphere! A convenient construct that flattens out the three dimensions of space onto an imaginary plane. It is a brotherly view as if curved like the earth itself. Once again, it is we that are moved thru the night sky. From our observers fixed position on Earth, we rotate about our axis, giving the illusion that the hunter first sleeps, then awakens anew, standing upright.

This great heavenly envelope, or celestial sphere, is only a construct. There is no such thing. The motion of the heavenly bodies is an apparent one caused by Earths rotation. And with our axis tilt, as the stars follow the path of the celestial equator, Orion the Hunter neither sleeps, nor slumbers. Awake always, he remains my trusted friend thru the Winter night.

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Permit the Hermit

by Theodore R Frimet

pay to view

Recently, a member forwarded a link to an online article detailing New York States Stargazing Permit programs. Clearly for 2020, the Empire State has gone above and beyond. The permit for the hermit, in all of us, has both its pros and cons.

Here is a link to the Official Website of New York State:

Keying in “2020 Dashboard Permit Guide” into their Search feature leads us to the first hit. This describes, among other fishing and windsurfing permits, the Stargazing Permit. A PDF describing more detail can be found below, last accessed on February 2, 2020, Sunday, 9:46 AM EST.

I have been known to pine away the evenings in my own Pennsylvanian back yard. I always think about seeking the darkness of our local County Park system. I am shooed away by researching the inevitable. That the park closes after sunset. Sigh.

Imagine my surprise to learn that New York has upended the apple cart! They have facilitated lawful, licensed access for after sunset parking. They have done so for not less than six locations. One such notable restive makes me shudder with memories of my childhood. Having spent a few summer days at Montauk Point, I do miss NYS. Yet having spent that luxury of time digging for piss-clams in the sand, I am wanting to know more of just where the Upper Parking Lot domain lay?

Simmons (1) writes, “Along comes a park ranger demanding to see your Stargazing Permit, and issues you a citation because you didn’t know you needed such a permit.” Ah, the yesteryear of my youth. Baiting flatfish out of the inner harbor of Staten Island. The rustling of rats after dark. Time to go home, now. All the while, knowing that if ye venture to the shoreline a permit is a requirement. And that knowledge, my friends, was the venue and tale of a 8 year old. Certainly an adult New Yorker would know the difference between lawful access at night, and scurrilously venturing into the park, after dark.

We amateurs seek the shelter of dark skies. I am filled with fond memory when Scouts from New York trekked to Washington Crossing Park, NJ. They chose not their local Wolfs Pond Park of Staten Island. That evening they happened across two AAAP members cruising the soccer fields’ open horizon and starlight. Forgive my memory as I vie to recall if Jupiter was out, in the company of the last sighting of Saturns Rings?

I cannot speak for the Scouts or any New Yorker for that matter. Our price of admission for the AAAP keyholder is your membership, and ongoing dedication to advancing Amateur Astronomy. Coupled with the membership at UACNJ, we sport even more dark skies than Titusville can deliver. Both memberships come at a cost. It isn’t hefty, and is reasonable beyond all comparison. The value is great, and the camaraderie of our mutual affiliations are gilded with gold.

New Yorkers now pay for regimented night time access. They may flee no more to the haven that is the Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton. This is presumptuous at best.

The park system that includes Jenny Jump State Forest, and the observatory at Washington Crossing Park, is manned by amateurs and professionals alike. We are open during the clear dark nights as proscribed by our respective websites. That, my dear reader, is truly what is valued.

Come press your eye against the eyepiece. Talk, discuss, and be happy to be among those that wish to learn the night sky. With the help of those that care, we continue to host a guided view to the Universe. No permit required.

(1) The Gateway Pundit. (2020). Can’t Make This Up… New York State Is Now Mandating “Stargazing Permits” For Looking At The Sky. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Feb. 2020].

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compiled by Arlene & David Kaplan


Sun’s surface seen in remarkable new detail
Behold the Sun’s convulsing surface at a level of detail never seen before. The Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope on Hawaii has released pictures that show features as small as 30km across. This is remarkable when set against the scale of our star, which has a diameter of about 1.4 million km (870,000 miles) and is 149 million km from Earth…more


Cosmic vibrations sensed from unusual star merger
Scientists have observed gravitational waves emanating from the collision of two dense, dead stars. It’s the second time the international Ligo-Virgo collaboration of laser labs has picked up such a signal. What makes this one different, though, is the combined mass of the two merging neutron stars – at three and a half times that of our Sun…more

artists conception of a star nursery


Vast ‘star nursery’ region found in our galaxy
Astronomers have discovered a vast structure in our galaxy, made up of many interconnected “nurseries” where stars are born. The long, thin filament of gas is a whopping 9,000 light-years long and 400 light-years wide. The discovery, outlined in the journal Nature, came from work to assemble a new map of the Milky Way…more


Global methane map
A Canadian start-up, GHGSat, is promising to release a high-resolution map of methane in Earth’s atmosphere by the year’s end. The company has one spacecraft in orbit currently to monitor the trace gas. Another two are expected to go up in the next few months. Montreal-based GHGSat tracks oil and gas operations…more


Mega-constellation firms meet European astronomers
There’s concern that the size and brightness of the firms’ planned fleets could interfere with the work of professional telescopes. The parties discussed the issues in a private meeting at the Royal Astronomical Society in London, UK. The talks were described “as positive”. OneWeb and SpaceX are in the process of launching big networks of spacecraft…more

NASA Space telescope discovers largest ring around Saturn


NASA Space Telescope Discovers Largest Ring Around Saturn
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered an enormous ring around Saturn – by far the largest of the giant planet’s many rings. Saturn’s newest halo is thick, too – its vertical height is about 20 times the diameter of the planet. It would take about one billion Earths…more

Two satellites in close shave over US city of Pittsburgh. Artists conception of one of the satellites


Two satellites in close shave over US city of Pittsburgh
Two satellites hurtling across the sky at nearly 33,000 mph (53,000 km/h) narrowly missed a collision over the US state of Pennsylvania on Wednesday. The two objects “crossed paths without incident,” a spokesman for US Space Command told the AFP news agency. US Space Command said the two inactive satellites passed each other at 18:39 EST (23:39 GMT) some 550 miles (900km) above Pittsburgh…more

artists conception of the capella space based radar


Capella Space radar company chases persistent vision
Capella is developing a commercial constellation of small, low-cost Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites. These will be capable of sensing the Earth’s surface in all weathers, day or night. It’s an activity that has traditionally been dominated by Big Government – the national space agencies and the military – because of the expense and complexity of doing radar from orbit…more

cosmic glowing gasses artist representation of sign language


Inventing sign language for space
British sign language is receiving an astronomical update thanks to a unique collaboration between a space scientist and a group of deaf astronomers….more

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